Taxi Rojo: A Tijuana Tale

We may tell our children in years to lớn come that there was a time, especially if it was during rush hour on a rainy day, when you couldn"t get a cab in New York City for love or money. These days, the streets are mostly empty. It"s estimated that 90% of the xe taxi business has dried up.

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That"s part of the reason why the đô thị, with help from the National Guard, started a program that pays cab drivers to deliver food to lớn low-income housebound residents.

Mouhamadou Aliyu, a yellow cab driver of many years standing, gets up before dawn to lớn participate. He knows there"s a health risk: "But this is my home, và yellow is what I vì chưng," he explained. "Right now, there is a pandemic. Our people, they are suffering. The thành phố gọi us. We are answering the điện thoại tư vấn."

Yellow cab driver Mouhamadou Aliyu. CBS News

Drivers earn $53 a route. Each route entails about six deliveries, và it means waiting in line for hours to get fully loaded; lugging boxes of food up inkhổng lồ crowded apartment complexes; and then cleaning up for the next run.

"But, we"re still hopeful," Aliyu told "Sunday Morning" special contributor Ted Koppel. "We"re New Yorkers. We don"t give up!"

As a young immigrant from West Africa bachồng in 1994, Aliyu saw Manhatrã through rose-colored glasses: "I came here with nothing, nothing at all. This was my dream. As a yellow cab driver, lớn hold a medallion is lượt thích being on top of my game. This is where I want to be. This is the American dream."

In 2003, he became an American citizen. By 2004, Aliyu had learned that you don"t get rich just driving a cab; lớn make money, he was told, you need khổng lồ own the xe taxi – and khổng lồ own it, you need a special license: a medallion.

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The đô thị paid for ads promoting the deal as essentially risk-free; và it was New York City that has made literally billions of dollars selling these medallions at auction. When there are more buyers than medallions, the price goes up. That, in theory, is where even an immigrant cab driver could get rich: "So I said, "Why not?" But, in order for me to lớn place a bid lớn go for the medallion, I have sầu to lớn raise $đôi mươi,000. But I have sầu only $7,000. So, I apply for credit card. I get approved. I Hotline them, I say, "Can I use it for anything I want?" They say, "Yes, it"s your money. You can vày whatever you want with it.""

Koppel said, "Then you had $13,000 that you had on your two credit cards. $trăng tròn,000 cash down, on a $331,000 bid."

"Yes, that would be a loan. And you have sầu to lớn pay for the car, gas, maintenance, all that. But still, life was good. Even I would say life was great."

Within about a year Aliyu"s medallion had appreciated more than $100,000, & remarkably, the value kept rising. "Lucky me, I was able to lớn buy a house here in the Bronx, a three-family house," He said. "So, things was good. And then, moving forward, the medallion value was going up. In 2013 the đô thị auctioned medallion at $1,350,000."

Seven years ago – in theory, on paper – Aliyu was a millionaire.

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"The only reason that it was worth over a million dollars was that there was some other immigrant who could be taken advantage of lớn pay that amount," said Thủ đô New York Times reporter Brian Rosenthal. "And not really even pay that amount, but be trapped in a loan that would shackle them in debt for the rest of their lives."

Rosenthal won a Pulitzer Prize for his series exposing the xe taxi medallion scam. As he explained in the Times" documentary series "The Weekly," those medallions were money-makers … just not for the drivers.

"There was the đô thị which sold the medallions, the brokers who collected commissions, and the bankers who wrote the loans and sold some of them for profit," he said. "And what we found in our reporting was that the value of the medallion went from $200,000 khổng lồ over a million dollars, when the revenue that it had to lớn bring in did not change at all.n Eventually, you realize that this wasn"t by accident. Many insiders knew that the whole thing was a house of cards.

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"The loans were never stable," Rosenthal said, "they were never sustainable, & they were always going khổng lồ be a burden that was unpayable after this bubble popped. And that"s what happened."

Last summer, the Thành Phố New York City Council held a hearing on what was called the owner-driver crisis. Mouhamadou Aliyu was one of the witnesses:

"Every single day, every single hour, I think about taking my own life," he told đô thị officials. "I think about suicide. The only thing that stops me is my four kids. If I do so, what"s going to happen lớn them? I"m supposed to lớn be a millionaire today, and I"m proud of it. And you guys are trying lớn take that away from me. It"s not acceptable. I"m calling on you: Please! Please! Have sầu mercy on us. Help us."

Koppel said of Aliyu"s testimony, "He speaks rather plaintively of his status as a millionaire: I"m a millionaire. He"s never gonna see that day again, is he?"

"No, he"s not," Rosenthal said. "I mean, he deserves it. He works very hard. I"ve met hundreds of these cab drivers, và they all work extremely hard."

Many of the drivers are convinced that ride-nội dung companies – lượt thích Lyft and Uber – ruined their business. Even without them, though, said Rosenthal, the medallion bubble had to lớn burst.

Six months ago, said Aliyu, the medallion was worth less than $100,000. What he still owes on that medallion, however, is more than $600,000. The chances that he"ll ever be able lớn pay that off? Sllặng và none.

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One slender ray of sunshine: Thủ đô New York State"s Attorney General is preparing lớn sue the City of Thủ đô New York to the tune of more than $800 million for misleading medallion owners. It could take years, và even that sum wouldn"t make the drivers whole again.

And then, of course, there"s the pandemic. Well over 50 cab drivers have died from the virut since March. Most drivers these days are staying home; the few available fares just aren"t worth the health risk.

Aliyu said, "There is no more sleep. There is no night. At night we chat on the WhatsApp group, we"re so worried. If nothing is done, when this pandemic will be over, the yellow cab industry will be over, too, will be finished."